Monday, May 08, 2017

Starbucks and yet another Guggenheim

A very full week last week, kicking off with meetings at Craftspace about an exciting project which is coming up in July, about which I will report in due course, and an opportunity for my students to design some very prestigious sporting medals. Mostly, the students have been working on their final projects - term is over in a mere 3 weeks from now - which always leads to interesting things lying about in the workshops:

Dem Bones...

This is going to be a salt and pepper shaker set.

Colleagues, Jo Pond and Drew Markou gave me a heap of old gramophone needles with which I started to construct a brooch:

The B Of The Bang - WIP - 1

AiR Show - 2017 - 16

At the School of Jewellery, we have a large programme of Artists-in-Residence (AiR) who work with us, receiving workshop space, technical and mentoring support in exchange for teaching one day per week. There is an AiR for each course taught here and at the end of the year, they put on a show of the work they've made in the course of the year.

We all - obviously - love Katy Tromans' miniature, wearable jewellery tools:

AiR Show - 2017 - 5

Francesca Urciuouli's work is a sublime playing with layered and fused metals:

AiR Show - 2017 - 7

AiR Show - 2017 - 6

One of my own graduates, Stephanie Holt, has completed a collection of precious metal and resin pieces which are rather lovely:

AiR Show - 2017 - 9

AiR Show - 2017 - 10

All together this was an excellent show of work from an exciting programme.

Should anyone wish to apply for the Artist-in-Residence programme, details are here.

It is many years since I was in Newcastle (Upon Tyne) and my memories of it are that it was very dirty, very aggressive and violent. On arriving in the city this time, I left the station into a full-scale altercation as a man resisted arrest surrounded by dozens of police officers and a screaming, drunk woman, leaving me somewhat apprehensive: however, like everywhere, Newcastle has changed...

I last saw Einstürzende Neubauten in 2008 when they played The Forum in London. Prior to that, I hadn't seen them since 1983 or 1984 when they played the strange and impossible-to-get-to Holloway College in Surrey. Seeing them again in the Boiler Shop -  unsurprisingly, a converted boiler-shop - seemed much more like that first gig in terms of scale and energy but how things have changed! Nobody seemed drunk, stoned or on speed - the band especially so - and Blixa Bargeld is now very much the 'singer' in a way that he wasn't in the early days. Certainly, he had assumed this role at the time I saw them in The Forum but that venue precluded intimacy. It is perhaps surprising that for a band with a reputation for noise and mayhem, I comment on the importance of 'intimacy' to the experience of seeing them but this is very much a feature of what is being touted as their "Greatest Hits Tour".

Einstürzende Neubauten - 3

Rather than being the shambolic, dangerous, subversive event that characterised the early days, this was a refined affair, with Bargeld in a black, shimmering lounge-suit, almost louche, tapping into the European Chanson tradition. This was not an angry, aggressive Neubauten but a reflective one, the set focusing on the melancholic and dark songs rather than the noisy crowd-pleasers (though there were a few of those, including "Let's Do It A Dada"), allowing Bargeld to foreground his velvety baritone and impressive falsetto. The ghosts of Gainsbourg and Brel were not far away in the performances of "The Garden", "Silence is Sexy" and the deeply moving "Sabrina".

Einstürzende Neubauten - 4

Quite wonderful.

The modernisation of the city has made Newcastle a city of great character and some beauty; it reminds me a lot of my other favourite, underrated city, Dundee; but like so many cities, the danger of modernisation is homogeneity. As Bargeld puts it in 'Youme & Meyou', "'cause out there's always a construction site, a Starbucks and yet another Guggenheim".

Central Arcade

Gateshead Bridge - 2

Unfortunately there is too much evidence of the homogeneity.

I regret now that I had to leave the city so quickly and would have liked to spend more time there: the bad impression created by visiting years ago and the incident outside the train station when I arrived proved to be atypical and everyone I met was friendly, cheerful and helpful. Also, there is some fantastic brutalist architecture which I didn't get to explore fully, appropriate for the location of "Get Carter".

Brutalist Newcastle - 2

Saturday, back to Birmingham and off to the CBSO Centre to hear the amazing Soweto Kinch and his quartet performing some of his new work from "Nonagram", a suite inspired by numbers.

Soweto Kinch

Kinch plays Alto Saxophone and is backed up by a phenomenally talented band of Reuben James on piano, Nick Jurd on Bass and Ed Richardson on drums. Additionally, Kinch uses live sampling and loops to thicken the texture of the band leading to a music which is rooted in 1960s British Jazz without being in thrall to it, bringing in influences from other genres including Hip-Hop, Drum and Bass and the minimalism of early Michael Nyman and leading to a thrilling performance, one of the pleasures of which was watching Kinch enjoying his colleagues' solos.

Most of Sunday was spent in the garden, transplanting seedlings, clearing rubble and digging a bed for carrots.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Welsh Wales

It's been another long weekend with a bank holiday spent in Brighton, so this post is a little bit out-of-date!  The weekend before last, saw the British Art Medal Society annual conference, held in Carmarthen, Wales. I've not spent a lot of time in Wales and have certainly never been beyond Cardiff, so it was a pleasure to be able to explore some of the landscape and environment by heading to Carmarthen by driving straight across the country from Birmingham to the west coast of Wales:

On the way, I wanted to take in the Craig Goch dam, which is a spectacular late-Victorian structure:

Graig Goch Dam - 1

Graig Goch Dam - 12

I discovered when I was there that this dam was built to supply Birmingham with drinking water. The dam is very impressive and unusual in having been built from local stone. It is right in the middle of the country and can only be reached by some very narrow and twisting roads which climb up through beautiful, mountainous countryside.

Graig Goch Dam - 2

It was a real pity that the weather was so dull.
There was some very friendly wildlife, too, such as this chaffinch which came right up and pecked about my feet:

From here, I headed down to Aberystwyth - there are not nearly enough vowels in Welsh! - which is a pleasingly dilapidated seaside town. I do like a run-down British seaside town out of season and Aberystwyth is lovely (if you ever chance to visit, make sure to visit Treehouse for breakfast - quite the best breakfast I've eaten in a long time).

Aberystwth - 9

I see a funicular railway on that faraway hill, which means that I'm sure to return during the summer.

From here, I drove down to Dowerdd to see my friend and colleague, Mark Fenn and his wife in their new house and to marvel at their energy and enthusiasm for refurbishing their house and for making the bold move from urban Whitstable to one of the most rural places I can imagine!

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 7

So to a weekend of medals and a very exciting weekend it was too, based in the Carmarthen School of Art, one of the oldest art schools in the UK and which has an excellent sculpture programme including iron casting, led by the inimitable Andy Griffiths who not only provided a wonderful workshop in casting medals in iron but also fed us in his house with a phenomenal home-cooked "vegetarian banquet"!

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 18

Everyone had the chance to make their own medal by engraving into blocks of compacted sand:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 15

My own pattern was based on the Welsh word for "Iron", which is "Hearn":

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 17

The sand is pretty unpleasant to work - it crumbles easily and can't really be detailed - but it is an interesting process.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 22

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 24

These moulds were then stacked and tied and we all moved outside to the main action: the melting of the iron and pouring it.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 32
Andy Griffiths explaining about the process.
Andy and his team of students and staff built the foundry themselves and charged it as we watched.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 35

The medals were poured and given to us the next day...

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 66

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 66

After this, we were whisked off to the Carmarthenshire Museum to look at their small collection of medals, explore the collection and listen to some decidedly angry poetry in Welsh (which, amusingly, none of the Welsh-speakers could explain: annoyingly, the declaimer of said poetry refused to explain).

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 43

I especially love the Elizabeth Frink medal:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 46

Elsewhere in the museum was inspiration, including this remarkable device to stop calves suckling:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 45

And some excellent miners' tokens:

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 44

Next day, we headed out of town to visit a forge run by father-and-son team, David Petersen and his son, Toby for a demonstration of blacksmithing and medal-making in a forge.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 52

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 54

David is very charming and very funny and the morning flew past. The idea of forging medals is an interesting one. It seems very primitive and I do like the effect.

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 55

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 56

After this we went for lunch and then on to Laugharne, home of Dylan Thomas, a very beautiful town. Irene read us some of his poetry on the way there and on the way back again. Way preferable to the angry man the night before!

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 64

British Art Medal Society - 2017 Conference - 65
Dylan Thomas at Laugharne
Thomas wrote of Laugharne, "This timeless, beautiful, barmy (both spellings) town…….a legendary lazy little black magical bedlam by the sea". It has to be said that none of the magical bedlam was in evidence on the day we visited. Unless the BAMS contingent contributed that.

In Brighton last weekend.

Plastic Fantastic 2